At just 19 years old, Declan Michael Laird is forging a remarkable career in Hollywood. With no acting experience under his belt, he won a full scholarship to the most prestigious acting school in Los Angeles, the Stella Adler Academy of Acting, and in his first full length feature has won the Best Male Actor award in the Write Camera Action! Independent Screening Awards. Glasgow Theatre Blog had chance to catch up with this rising Scottish star to find out more…
Your story is pretty extraordinary, especially for someone so young, tell us, how did a young boy from Kilmacolm start this incredible journey?
“Acting was always something I thought that I could do, but I think when you don’t have any connections or family in the industry it can be very hard to get started. Fortunately for me I was presented with an opportunity that led me to doing a workshop program in Los Angeles during summer 2010, whilst there I was coached by an Oscar winner and two-time Golden Globe nominee producer Milton Justice. He advised me that this career was for me and I should immediately start trying to break into in industry whilst back in Scotland. I took his advice which actually turned out to be correct, as I started booking work quickly. Whilst also keeping in contact with Milton and getting his advice on my career, he offered me the chance to return to LA and study at the Stella Adler Academy of Acting on a 100% scholarship, which would secure me the highest bracket of training around and also present me with the chance to break into Hollywood whilst only 18. A decision I have never looked back on.”
The Stella Adler Academy can count Robert De Niro, Warren Beatty and Kevin Costner amongst its former pupils. How do you feel following in such illustrious footsteps?
“It can be quite daunting when you walk into the lobby of the school and they have all the headshots of the above mentioned on the wall. Even MORE daunting when you are told that Mark Ruffalo will be taking your Technique class in the afternoon (also a Stella Alumni who is also on the board of directors). But I feel that if I have been given the chance to be coached by teachers that have worked with the likes of De Niro and Marlon Brando, then it would be criminal not to cherish and listen to every word spoken in class. I know that most actors of my age would die to be in the position that I find myself.”
Your first professional role was in River City here in Scotland; tell us about your time on the show?
“It was great, and my first professional acting job. It really whet my appetite and told me that this is really what I want to do. The cast and crew were all so welcoming. I got some good feedback on my work and it was also my first ever audition. My life kind of took a complete 360 from playing football to working for the BBC, it was kind of crazy but very, very fun!”
I recently interviewed fellow River City alumni Allison McKenzie who is currently appearing in Macbeth in the West End with James McAvoy; would you consider pursuing a stage career alongside your film and TV roles?
“Just now I only really go out for TV and film. But my training is 90% stage, so if the role was right then I would most definitely would. I feel that some of the best actors come from a stage background. Who knows what the future has in store…”
You have already won a Best Male Actor award for your role in the highly acclaimed The Lost Purse, how did that feel?
“It was a shock! It is a nice little film where I play a deaf character. I think when people watch it they learn that they should not judge or treat anyone differently. Winning the award was a fantastic feeling, though I wish I had an acceptance speech prepared at the time! But I guess as an actor I did a pretty good job of improv-ing it! What made it even better was that my mum and dad were there to see me get it. They don’t get to experience a lot of things that happen with my career as they still live in Scotland.”
You obviously love football, having had a Pro Youth contract with Greenock Morton; do you still manage to fit in some football time in Hollywood?
“I do indeed. Ross King is a good friend and been a great help since I have been in LA. He understood that I wanted to play football still at the weekends if I could. He hooked me up with Vinnie Jones team ‘The Hollywood All Stars’. They are great guys and the team includes a lot of British actors and ex-football players. It is nice to get a bit of the changing room banter and away from the acting talk for a couple of hours a week.”
You have recently filmed a TV pilot with Guy Norman Bee whilst still training; can you tell us anything about that?
“Unfortunately I can’t mention the name of the pilot, but it was directed by Guy Norman Bee as you said, he is a veteran director having worked on ER, Criminal Minds, Supernatural and most recently Arrow. Working with him was just fantastic – his knowledge and the way he approaches things as well as the way he works with the younger actors, it was truly and experience I will never forgot. At the end of filming he came up to me and said ‘whatever it takes to make it in this crazy town kid, you got it’ which put a BIG smile on my face.”
You finish your training this year, what do you have planned after you graduate?
“Well I study part time now to spread my training for as long as possible. Stella Adler have also given me an open door policy where I can come back and do classes at any time – so that I am never getting rusty. I will just keep plugging away, working hard and auditioning. I know that if I put in the effort then success will come.”
What are your long-term goals?
“To just be as good an actor as possible; to play a variety of different roles and challenge myself as much as I can, but most importantly to pay back everyone who has helped me as my career grows, mostly my family.”
Finally, do you have any advice for any would-be actors back home in Scotland?
“Dive in the deep end! Don’t be scared! Do what you want to do. Do not let anyone tell you that you can’t do something, and if they do then prove them wrong! Oh and work on your American accent now… 🙂